Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A job is a job

So, there are other games out there right now besides Skyrim, it's just that none of them are as good.

For example, I am trying to take every other day off and keep working on the backlog, as November has tripled its size. I am usually successful, but then people start talking about how awesome King of Fighter XIII is and I begin to break out in a sweat. I have to work, I have to eat, I have other family related obligations, how in the world am I going to pick up another fighting game to be bad at? It may or may not happen; I played a little of XII and the netcode was ass, though there have been many assurances that this one is better. At only $50 it is tempting...

I am also trying to work by way through Lord of the Rings: War in the North and am happy to say that it is nowhere near as bad as some of the reviews will lead you to believe. It is just a loot dropping hack and slash game very much in the vein of Dark Alliance (but from the wrong perspective. Isometric for life, yo!) Enemies to grow in power at roughly the rate your equipment does, and the special moves are rather plain, but it plays the Lord of the Rings fan service card rather well for not being attached to a movie. I enjoyed wandering around Lothlorien talking to members of the fellowship before they started out, and Bilbo sitting alone on a bench, writing everything down so he doesn't forget them as he swiftly ages, was just a little touching. (I could have down without the Legolas cameo, but what are you going to do).

The voices were off and the a few of the faces were terrible, but I get what they were trying to do. They couldn't inject new characters into the Lord of the Rings story proper, so they created another conflict in the same general area. It works, and it just engaging enough to keep me from thinking about just how many times I have mashed the X button over the last few hours. Reminds me of the short time I attempted to play Marvel, hiyo!

Of course it is not as good as Skyrim, and it does indeed occupy some of the same mental space, to the point that I started worrying my armor degrading while I was fighting a dragon last night, but it is not a bad distraction. Skyrim is almost a job. A good job, to be sure, one that includes thieving and murder and intrigue and dragons, but a job none the less. So many people what my attention that I tend to pick a direction and wonder off, spelunking and looting until I can relax again.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Skyrim Journal #5

I am beginning to wonder if my activities in Skyrim are attracting the exact wrong kind of intention. It is bad enough that a Dark Brotherhood assassin somehow managed to find me in the middle of nowhere. He must have been an initiate, as I could smell him coming before I could hear him, and when he finally made his move he found two flaming arrows in his chest. The assassin was not the part that bothered be; the contract in his pocket was much more troublesome. From what I understand, once a contract has been paid for the Dark Brotherhood does not fail, so I can look forward to a parade of assassins, each slightly more skilled than the last. Perhaps that wolf blood will come in handy after all.


The Dark Brotherhood I understand; someone has paid them to kill me. It's just a contract, any nothing personal as far as they are concerned. What I do not understand is why I have become a magnet for daedric princes looking to harass mortals for their personal amusement. On three separate occasions (that I know of) I have run afoul of their games. All three were awful experiences, one involving betrayal and murder, another betrayal, murder, and cannibalism, but the first is the tale I recount to you now, at least what little I remember of it.


Only a few days after escaping execution and finding a place to stay in Whiterun I was challenged to a drinking contest by a wisp of a man who was sitting alone in the bar. Elves are not exactly known for holding their liquor well, but I had seen bastard swords that weighed more than this nord, and I was a little short on gold, so I took up his challenge. After two glasses he yielded, offering up his staff as a reward if I could finish one more glass of the drink he had provided. I finished the drink and blacked out before I hit the floor. To this day I still have not pieced together everything that happened in the days that followed.


I awoke a full week later in a temple that I did not recognize. One of the attendants noticed that I had regained awareness and immediately ordered me to leave. My bewildered look kept her from drawing a weapon long enough to explain to me what she knew.


'You are in Markath. I found you three days ago fondling the statues with your, well, it was quite inappropriate and lewd. It took three of us casting spells that should have been fatal to subdue you.' It was quite clear that she did not like me.


On the way out of the door I asked her if I was alone. She explained that there was a terribly thin man in a similar condition, along with a goat that had seen better days. I knew who the man was, but the goat? I fled the city quickly, to the jeers of the city guard, the vendors in the market, and just about everyone else that I passed. Each one accused me of an act more heinous than the last. By the time I reached the gates all I wanted to do was find the man who started this, kill him, and then buy a mask so no one would know who I was.


It was a days journey from Markath back to Whiterun, and it took more than half of it for  my head to clear. I ran afoul of a farmer, apparently the owner of the goat, who I only kept from calling the guard by bribing with a significant about of gold. Once he was calm enough to talk I explained that I had no memory of any of it and that I was looking for the man that I had been traveling with. The farmer had no information about him, but he did say that I was going on and on about a ring that I had purchased in Whiterun for my wife to be.


This was getting worse. I took my leave (and a few items from his house when he wasn't looking) and continued back to Whiterun. There was only one jewelry vendor there, so I knew where to start. She was also none to please to see me, saying that I owed her a significant amount of gold for the ring. I did not have the ring, and I lied about not having the gold, instead begging her for information about this woman who I was supposed to marry. She had not seen her, nor had she seen my drinking 'companion,' buy she did remember where I had said the wedding was to take place. She also wondered where the goat was and how I would live with myself.


'It becoming more difficult all the time.'


It took a bit of searching to find the cave where my wedding was supposed to take place. Bandits had taken up residence and picking them off one at a time was an excellent outlet for several days of frustration. This was not place for a wedding: it was dark, moldy, and on the verge of collapse. There were rooms here and there, and each was littered with empty wine bottles. In one there were bits and pieces of several men strewn across the walls and ceiling alongside claw marks that I recognized as my own. I was sick to my stomach with fear, but also had to admit that a drunken werewolf must have been a sight to see.


The empty bottles provided a path to follow, leading to some sort of portal in the center of the deepest rooms. It looked like a pool of water standing on its side, but I could peer through it and see a forest that looked more than a little like home. After putting an arrow through and pulling it back intact I closed my eyes and leaped through; looking for answers had supplanted personal safety. I had to know what happened, who this man was, and what the goat had to do with any of this.


There was indeed a forest on the other side, but it was not home. It was filled with spirits of all sizes, all content to go about their business and ignore the very embarrassed elf who was not intruding. I could hear the sounds of a party in the distance, so I followed them, honestly afraid of what I was going to find out. Over a rise I found the party, or rather, what should have been a party. There was a tremendously long table with beings of all races seated at it. The sounds of a great celebration were all around, but none of them were moving. Each was frozen mid-motion; some eating, some drinking, at least a few involved in much more lascivious activities. At the head, and the only one who reacted to my presence, was the man who started it all.


'Welcome!' he bellowed. He appeared at my side without moving from his seat. 'What a time we had! That week with you was one of the best time I have had with a mortal. Your lack of morals and willing to try just about anything was quite refreshing. Truly, you have earned this.'


He handed me a staff, which I took without looking.


'I can see you have many questions, none of which I will answer. You see, I must return to my party. Know that you spent a wonderful, awful weak with the daedric prince Sanguine, and that you have lived to tell the tale. Or not tell it.'


He waved his hand and new portal appeared. I could see the cave I had started in through it, but hesitated before going through.


'Please, I must know. The goat?'


Sanguine turned and pointed at the table. In the center stood a goat with a  wedding ring in its ear, looking terribly pleased with itself.


I bought that mask I was talking about and have worn it ever since.  



Friday, November 25, 2011

Time to breath

Time to play catch up. There are several things that I have been meaning to talk about that have been continually put off by either being busy at work, not being around, or (most of all) Skyrim. Working the Friday after Thanksgiving in a non-retail establishment is actually not so bad. It's been relatively quiet today, so I should have just enough slacking time to collect my thoughts.

Resistance 3 was mentioned briefly last week. It was very good when I started it, and it only got better as the game went on. Yes, there has been a glut of upper tier shooters this year, all of which have come out in the fourth quarter, but Resistance 3 is the first one that has effectively sealed the deal with an excellent (read: not a quick time) ending. First, the bad: Warhammer was a very good shooter that no one played which decided to end you the player mashing X instead of doing what had been fun for the rest of the game. Battlefield 3 has exactly the same kind of ending. I have not played the new Modern Warfare yet, but I bet 1000 quatloos right now that it pulls the same shit. Resistance 3 has the common sense to let the player finish things off in the same genre of game that got them there: shooting things.

It would have been very easy for Insomniac to take the easy way out and have the player pushing buttons in a prompted manner as a giant terraformer falls out of the sky onto a tower that had open a portal to somewhere else in the galaxy. What they did instead was genius. You fall through the floor, loose all but one of your weapons, and get tangled in cables hanging from part of the ship (think the end of Return of the Jedi without all the whining). As you hang there the chimera, lacking common sense to the very end, start pouring out and shooting at you. It honestly surprised me when I realized that this was not a cut scene and that I actually had to aim at these bastards while swinging from a cable. After the first wave you fall further and are swung upside down, and you still are responsible for keeping yourself alive. It was the most exciting final two minutes of a game that I have played through in years, and just because Insomniac had the courage to actually let me play the last two minutes.

(Chance, if you are reading this, you should feel guilty about not playing this)

...

Last Sunday I had a chance to sample Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3. The actual playing lasted only a few minutes, as what few words of the difficult foreign language I had picked up the first time around had been forgotten, replaced with random super jumps and missed  inputs. We all gave up around the same time and just ran through the new characters supers. Marvel and I have come to a firm agreement: I love to watch the game, I love to watch people who are very good at it play the game, but under no circumstances should I attempt the game myself.

...

Skyrim would easily devour all of my time if I let it, so for the last week or so I have tried very hard to play it and another game simultaneously. This worked with Resistance 3 because it was worth playing, but how would it hold up with a shitty game? White Knight Chronicles 2 made it all of an hour. It did not help that I spent literally that entire hour in menus, leveling up characters because the game expected me to archive me save file from the first game and gave me generic level 35 characters because I didn't. Once I was done with that and got into the game itself I remembered comparing the first game to torture, turned it off and sent it packing. Part of what can make a bad gamer tolerable is the surprising way a game can mange to be bad.  When I know exactly what is coming the fearful anticipation of forthcoming terribleness is just too much to bare. I don't fell bad that I turned it off, I just wish that simply turning the game on hadn't generated a trophy so it would be easier to forget.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Skyrim Journal #4

The old man, the leader of the companions, had the same reservations about the the blood I now carried, but not for the same reasons. He was concerned about the long term affects on his soul, where he would spend his afterlife. My biggest worry was getting stabbed in the back be werewolf hating extremists, though the the likelihood of that happening was reduced significantly after I killed most of them. He pulled me into his quarters to chastise me for what he called over zealous revenge. In the same breath, however, he told me the story of how the companions were cursed in this way.

Several hundred years ago they made a deal with a coven of witches. Those in power at the time thought it would be easy to remove the curse later, so they took what they thought would be a short term power boon to complete the witch's task. After it was done the witches betrayed them and they could not find a way to undo the curse. As the years went by more and more of the companions came to accept it as a gift and use it accordingly, but the current leader thought it went against what it truly meant to be a nord. Being an elf I cared little for the second part of his plight, but the betrayal of the witches was not imagined. I had come to enjoy their company in spite of myself, so when he asked me to seek out these witches and kill one I accepted.


Killing one of them was not really an option. It was a long, cold walk, so by the time I got there anything living in their cave was going to be the victim of my frustrations. The old man had spoken of the witches in a way that had me more than a little worried. Had they been smart enough to all come at me simultaneously there might have a problem, but each was sequestered away in her own little section of the cave. I have no idea what each of them were doing, honestly I didn't look hard enough to find out, instead killing them from behind with several well placed arrows. They may have been ancient, but they bled like anything other living thing, and died just the same.


The old man had specifically requested one of their heads to use in the ritual to remove his curse. If I knew then what I know now I would have harvested several, but at the time even placing one in my pack was difficult enough. The smell was incredible and it never seemed to stop bleeding. I killed a pilgrim I ran across on the way back just so I had more clothing to wrap it in. By the time I got back I could not wait to be rid of the thing, but it was not to be. In my absence the remnants of the Silver Hand attacked. There was only one casualty, and it was the one person who cared about the what was to happen to him after he died.


I did not want to be moved, and I certainly did not enjoy this feeling of loss. He had given me a task, and I had completed it, but my shield brothers were too incompetent to keep him safe while I was gone. This was their fault, not mine. I stood as far from them as I could during the funeral, and afterward when the remaining members of the circle retreaded to their cave I made a move to the now empty guild house, intent on emptying their coffers and taking my leave. The blacksmith pulled me aside and asked that I retrieve something from the now dead leader's quarters. He had hidden the final piece of an ancient weapon in his quarters and I was to retrieve it. Only fitting, seeing as I had been all over Skyrim looking for the damn things.


It was not difficult to open the locked cabinet that contained the final piece. Besides that I found several nice sized gems, a bit of gold, and finally his journal. With no one around I was free to read through it. He though highly of me in spite knowing nothing of who I was or what my motivations were. It was his intent to pass the position of leader of the companions down to me upon his death, but he had not planned on dying for a long time. Out of respect I put back his gems and gold, instead emptying the quarters of those responsible for his death. If they couldn't do as much as protect an old man then they certainly did not deserve any of the wealth he had helped them accumulate.


I was half way out of the door when they stopped me. No, they did not know that my pack contained most of their gold, but they did want my input on what to do next. I was of the opinion that the old man was right, that the blood of the wolf was a curse, and I told them so. Surprisingly I was not alone; at least two other took my side, and even those who would never give the ability up admitted that it was his right to seek a cure and that it was a pity they he did not find one before he died. 


There was silence for quite some time, as no one, including myself, knew what to do to properly honor our leaders death. Finally the blacksmith entered the cave, carrying an ax much to large for any normal sized man or elf to properly wield. He said that it was the reforged Wuthgard, heated it the fires of out leaders funeral pyre. With this weapon we would be able to unlock the very place that souls moved from this life to the next, and it was to be my job to carry it there. I believed none of this, but had I refused this 'honor' I would have been cut down right there. I accepted it, noting that I could not possible use it in battle, and placed it in my pack right next to the witches head.


The journey north to the nord's holy burial ground was a long one. How these people live here in the winter is a mystery to me. I am swaddled like a babe under layer upon layer of skins and they trapse about in little more than chain mail armor and a smile. Thankfully they are much too troubled to harass me, and my opinion of them was low enough that I would not have taken it gracefully. The cave itself was guarded my a statue over twice my height. This ax was clearly meant for it, and I was told that only it would open the way inside, so I placed the ax in its hands. I was happy to be rid of the thing, and it did indeed open a hidden door behind us.


As we made out way deeper into the cave one by one the companions deserted me. They made excuses of honor or shame, but I saw only fear. We were assaulted by the ghosts of companions past, there to test us and make sure only the worthy made it to the central altar. Only one companion made it there at my side, the woman whose wolf form shed the blood that turned me, and even she did not make it without injury. By the time we arrived at the central alter my quiver was dangerously low and she was moving at about half speed. Much more of this and we would both not survive.


The alter itself was little more than an over sized brazier, though how it continued to burn with no one to attend it I could not understand. Behind it stood the shadow of our leader, looking as he did in his youth. Death had suited him well, and he knew that I was there with what he needed to save him from his curse, even now. He instructed me to place the witch's head in the flames, and as soon as I did so it erupted into a bright green flame. The ghost faded quickly, replaced by a new specter, a giant red wolf that attacked us as soon it noticed we were there. It was a difficult battle but we prevailed, and in retrospect I do wonder why physical arrows did anything to a ghost in the first place. I survived, and that is all that matters.


When the old man returned he thanked us for out efforts and asked if I had brought anything to cure myself. He told me that if I had brought another head that he would be able to cure me as well. I want to believe that his original instructions to kill only one came from ignorance, not malice, but I did not hide my disgust with him very well. His words of parting were that I was indeed to be the new leader of the companions, a statement echoed by the only companion to make it to the end of this at my side.


I wanted nothing to do with these people any longer. Each was more self serving than the last, right down to the one I actually though had my best interests in mind. I did not tell them this, instead accepting the appointment with the condition that I be allowed plenty of time to pursue my own interests. Then I left them, wondering if they would ever figure out who it was that left with all their gold.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Choices, choices

The Resistance games have always had a very specific visual malaise: depressing with just a hint of silly alien design. Okay, more than a hint, the grunt chimeras make very little sense physically. Thankfully that does not detract from how much fun it is to kill them. Resistance 3 feels like an intentional homage to older shooters, even more so than the previous two games. Weapons are not limited by the physical space it would take to carry them. Almost all of them have their uses, thought they to tend to break down into up close, medium range, and blog up big shit categories. Regenerating health is also gone. I really hope that I am not the only person who sat behind cover during the first boss battle waiting for my health to come back, then getting very confused (and dead) when it didn't.

It also just plain lifts entire levels from other games. Without going to far down the same tangent Yahtzee did is his review, yes, Nibelheim from Half Life 2 is present in its entirety, right down to the overtly religious nut jobs who run the place. I don't mind it too much, but a nod to Valve in the form of an easter egg here or there would not have been a bad idea. Not everyone has played Half Life 2, so they might not know that this had all been done before.

Better.

With a gravity gun.

Playing Resistance 3 is difficult. Every moment spent with it instead of wandering from cave to save in Skyrim feels like wasted time. Big, important things are constantly happening there, some of which I cause and some of them I see from the sidelines, but just walking through towns is an event. There will be a full journal update either tonight or tomorrow, but picking out a few things to talk about is not going to be easy.

It's not just playing Resistance that's hard right now, doing anything with my spare time that does not involve Skyrim feels like a chore. The second night I sat down in my comfortable chair and did not move for three hours. Nary a beer or snack was retrieved and I was quite sad when it was time to go to bed.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Skyrim Journal #3

It was certainly not the same dragon that inadvertently saved my head. Not only did it not look the same, but thanks to the 'new blood' I have in my veins, I could smell it before I saw it and knew it was a distinct beast. Familiarity did nothing to temper my fear. Seeing an animal that large flying with such fine control, then belching fire down on screams nords is more than enough to warrant fleeing for ones life.

I didn't, though, and not because I had any feelings of obligation toward the brutish guards that fought by my side or the jarl who had petitioned me to go along. I had to know if it could be killed. I had to know if it bled, if it hurt, and how much hurting in could take. The battle began with around twenty men, each and every one fighting for his life. The dragon circled the remains of a guard tower, snatching up straggling guards with its claws and flinging them into the surrounding fields. Those were the lucky ones, as being burnt to a crisp was much more unpleasant, judging from the screams.

The rocks torn from the tower provided adequate over and fired arrow after arrow at the dragon. Fewer than half found their make, and even less punctured his skin. One lucky shot lodged right below his eye and I saw him wince in pain. It was a momentary victory; it had given away my position. The dragon landed and circled around me, trying to get a clear shot on the one who had actually injured in. From above a mage began to rain down spelling. They had about the same effect as my arrows, but distracted the dragon enough for me to find a new place to hide. 

It took well over fifteen minutes and several scores of arrows, but the dragon fell. Of the twenty men only six were left, and two of those may never wield a sword again. Once the dragon stopped moving I approached, curious and greedy, looking for spoils that it might have ingested. At my first touch the dragon burst into flames, the smoke swirling around me. It was the same sound I encountered two days earlier coming from the wall I could not read. The images returned, and this time I could understand. This was not just a word, it was power, and for some reason, it was mine.

After the last fires died down the soldiers slowly approached. 'Dragon born,' one said, 'you should try a shout.'

Shout? That was what he called it. Though I still did not understand the power, it was more than a shout. I turned to the wreckage of the guard tower and said the new word. Nothing happened. Disappointed and angry, I yelled it as loud as I could. There was a tremendous gust of wind, pushing everything in front of me back and dousing much of the remaining fire.

Even the guard captain took a step back. This would prove useful indeed.

Getting biblical

I really did mean to start Resistance 3 yesterday. This was before the mandatory gig of updates and fifteen minute install broke my will and I loped back to Skrim like a ADHD puppy. I didn't have enough time to get anything done, I just wanted to wander through hills and try to kill a giant (it worked, they lose track of sneaky thieves rather easily).

The kind of freedom offered in Skyrim can sometimes be counterproductive. With so much to do and so many way to do them a player can become overwhelmed. Thankfully Skyrim organizes your quests just well enough to keep things moving and the side quests are more than the usual fluff used by other titles to flesh out play time. Everything if permissible, but not everything is beneficial. Yes, I could walk through town and kill almost everyone, but that would break so many quests that it would be counterproductive. It is tempting to empty of town of things to do and then turn into a werewolf and eat my way from one end of town to the other, but that will have to wait until after the main quest is done.

Resistance 3 will be started tonight, for sure this time, though I will not promise to be thinking about playing something else the whole time.

Monday, November 14, 2011

An impossible pace

This Skyrim journal will be difficult to keep up at this pace. There is so much to talk about, so much of what happens is forgotten by the next day. Leven, my elf, is already turning out differently than I planned, and I am okay with that. He was to be an evil, vengeful elf, but the attitude of the the companions has softened him a bit. Yes, he regrets accepting the werewolf curse, but it was his choice, and I think even he will come around about that eventually.

Or he may kill them all. It really depends on how powerful he becomes.

The backlog knows no mercy, so I will be taking a day off of Skryim to play Resistance 3. I really hope it is short.

Skyrim Journal #2

This guild, the companions they call themselves, are a very strange group. They have the same odd obsession with honor and dying well, but just below the surface they are just as vile and deviant and anyone else. They hide things from each other and plot against their fellow companions while toasting their accomplishments with ale. One would think that I had fallen in with the dark brotherhood.


After running several simple errands for them that I used as explanations for the spoils I returned with I was summoned to one of the inner circle's quarters. He said that I was ready for my test and that one of their number would accompany me. There had been reports that a fragment of a weapon had been found that was important to their history and it was to be hour job to retrieve it. Seemed a bit pointless to men since there weren't planning on selling it for something useful, but the companion standing behind me with one of the largest swords I had ever seen made it clear that this missions was not an option.


We encountered the same undead monsters that plagued me while retrieving the golden claw for the merchant in Riverwood, but my companion guide/guard dispatched them with hideous efficiency. I scarcely had time to pull an arrow from my pack before they lay in pieces on the floor, and the way he danced in and out of my firing lanes made taking shots more difficult than in should have been. On one occasion I glanced an arrow off of his back. A steady glare was my only punishment, though I was very sure that it did not happen again.


Apart from that he was very tolerant of treasure hunting. I opening every burial pot they we found, picked through the pockets of every corpse, opened every casket and retrieved all the gold I could find. He chuckled, then walked on, content to kill things and let the most important part, the looting, for his dunmer charge. It was a strange team, but it worked, right up to the point where I locked myself in a room and he had to find a way to get me out.


He was not angry, just annoyed at the diversion. He had been searching the room for only a few moments when seven or eight heavily armored nords appeared from nowhere, each one with a sword that appeared to my eyes to be made of silver.


'We have found you, at last,' the first one said as they circled the companion. My guide still did not seem frightened and there was nothing I could do but watch, still penned in  a trap that I had set off in my haste. Before the attackers could land a single blow their victim sheathed his sword, closed his eyes, and began to howl. He's gone made, I thought, until the room was bathed in light and he began to change. In a flash the man was gone, replaced by a werewolf twice his size. The monsters dispatched his attackers with ease, tearing them to pieces, before finally turning his gaze on me. I expected it to tear the bars from the wall before killed me as well, but instead he spoke.


'Wait here.'


Had I not been terrified I would have made a pithy remark, something like 'where am I supposed to go,' but I quickly nodded. He dropped to all fours and ran around a corner, there was flash, and the gate I was stuck behind begin to rise. I crawled underneath before it was all the way up and had already started to run when he called me from behind.


'Stop. You are in no danger. And tell no one of this, you are not yet supposed to know.'


We eventually found what we were looking for, but not once did I take my eyes off of him. I had never seen a werewolf before, and I certainly did not want to see one again.


...


Upon returning to the companion camp the finished my indoctrination with more than a little drinking and song. I found it enjoyable in spite of myself; it was the first time I felt like I truly belonged since fleeing my homeland, and even then it was more an attitude of tolerance then acceptance. These people didn't care that I was a wood elf, it was irrelevant. All that mattered was that I could kill a man before he knew I was there and had no moral hangups about doing so.


This complacent attitude lasted less than a day. After being sent out to kill another batch of werewolf hunters I was told to wait behind their guild hall in a cave beneath their forge. As if this was not enough, the entrance was hidden and spent most of the evening leaning against a rock wall freezing my ass off. Without warning it opening behind me and I was dragged in. I would have attacked had there not been another werewolf there along with a human companion. It was not the same one as before, a bit slighter in build, vaguely feminine, but just as frightening. My discomfort was obvious.


'Steel yourself, elf, I have an proposition. You show great promise, but to fully join our ranks the blood of the beast must run in your veins.'


I must admit that I was very curious, but not what I would call excited. To their credit they let me leave to think about it. I left town as quickly as I could and raided another bandit cave to clear my head. A few close calls later I realized that this would be just another tool, another weapon to use. I had been offered a chance to become more powerful, the intentions of those who offered it were not important. What was important was what I intended to do with it.


The next night I returned and completed their ritual. From what I am told it was a difficult transformation. I do not remember much, bits of piece and running through the forest at impossible speeds. They finally caught up to me over an hour later, calmed me down, and I returned to my normal form. The regret was immediate. What good is this weapon if I cannot control it? What had these people who I had just began to trust done? It was certain that they were much to powerful to take direct revenge, but this is indeed a curse and I must find a way to have it undone.


...


There is also the matter of meeting, fighting, and killing a dragon. It was the first, technically second, dragon seen in the lands in many lifetimes and I put in the final blow. I understand what happened next even less that the werewolf curse I was talked into, but I will say that at least this power I can point at someone.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Skyrim Journal #1

I did not ask for this, but someone will pay.


The boarder to Skyrim is not clearly marked, and I had been wandering the cold woods for weeks, so I had no idea there was any danger beyond packs of wolves and the occasional bear. I was, admittedly, on the run from other dunmer who did not share my opinions on work and how much anyone owns anything. Why should I, who has nothing, think twice about taking food and money from those who have everything and are not smart enough to take the time to enjoy it? The choice was to either stand, fight, and most likely die or run and not stop running. I ran, ill prepared, hungry, frightened and injured, I ran.


I remember warnings from my childhood about the cold of Skyrim, how it was as much of an enemy as anything with teeth and claws, but I did not believe them. That first night, huddled beneath the skirt of a pine tree, unable to even build a fire to keep myself warm, I gave up. I surrendered myself to be eaten by the next animal that approached. Nothing came, the stench of cowardice was enough to fend them off, I told myself, but I knew I was just lucky. A wood elf, a dunmer, unable to fend for himself in a forest? For the very first time I was disgusted with myself, second guessing my thieving ways. 


Out of the corner of my eye I say a rabbit, nosing at the few bits of food I had thought to bring along. It was innocent, only doing what was natural to it, and it enraged me. How dare this thing take what belongs to me! I wheeled my bow around and notched an arrow, pulled the string back, the stopped just long enough to appreciate the irony of the situation. I was this rabbit, stealing bits from people who should not have noticed, fleeing when they did.


I killed it anyway.


From that day forward I lived a feral existence, stealing from nature what I needed to survive. Long dormant skills with the bow bubbled up, and I was lighter and quieter on my feet that I have ever been. I had stumbled upon a group of pale men, nords I believed, that were speaking in hushed tones in spite of no one being within ear shot. Their gold and weapons did not interest me, but their clothing did, so I waited. I watched. So focused was I on the kill that I was caught in the same ambush that so surprised my prey, knocked out from behind by the pommel of a sword, and thrown in the back of a wagon with the rest of them.


When I awoke my bow was gone and my hands bound. The men were talking to each other, still in hushed tones, and did not notice right away that I was watching and listening. Finally the largest of them turned and I recognized him from the camp: I was going to kill him first. There was bravery in his words, but also fear, as he slowly explained where they were being taken. He spoke of rebellions and leaders and the tyranny of the empire, none of which I understood. I was not so resigned to me death, and while I was not innocent, I knew that this was not meant for me.


This large nord never stopped talking. It was actually a relief when the cart stopped and we were herded out into a well defended courtyard. There were guards posted in every tower, along every wall, and more in the buildings with arrows trained on us. A bit much for seven men and an elf. The leader of their group noticed that I was not on their official list of beheadings for the day, and I had the faintest glimmer of hope that they would simply let me go. But no. 'Just a dunmer,' he said, 'kill him anway.'


I could not believe that these men simply stood in line waiting to be killed in this way. They bragged on about honor, which is meaningless after your head has been separated from your shoulders. One did finally try to make a run for it was was brought down quickly by arrows, but at least he died on his feet. These other fools did nothing. I went over escape possibilities in my head as I watched the first man die. A bit anti-climactic, actually. The axe came down and he stopped moving, nothing more. The bastards called for me next. I was in a panic. There was nothing I could do and was going to die cowering on my knees. A distraction, something to turn them from me for just a few moments would be all I would need. I could disappear back into the forest, head back to my own lands.


There was noise that I am afraid I cannot describe. Something like a werewolf, but much larger, and it was coming from the sky. Then there was fire. Then there was screaming, panic, and the smell of flesh burning. I looked up from the block and caught the glimpse of wings through the smoke before the walls came down.


Once more I ran. Tied, burned, terrified, I ran.


The imperial commander came upon me and feigned authority. 'Come with me, prisoner,' he yelled. I laughed, and he might have killed me if the there was not another explosion behind him. Then the talkative nord appeared and asked me to follow. At least he might let me out of my chains. We retreated to the basement of the castle and he did indeed free me, just in time to kill a few soldiers who followed us in. As one died he muttered something about a dragon and I finally put together the bit and pieces of what I saw. A dragon. I thought they were long since gone, but the sounds of the castle above being destroyed said otherwise.


I was with this nord for quite some time, all the while my impression of him deteriorating. He never stopped talking, spinning tales about people and places that I have never heard of. He also wasn't very bright; it took him hours to finally give me, a dunmer, his bow. Watching him fire it had been torture, and when we made our escape from the castle I did not give it back to him. He suggested that I see his sister in the next town, Riverwood he called it, and I took my leave of him by ducking into the next cave I could find. The silence was wonderful, broken by a cadre of bandits that had also taken up residence. I killed them, one by one, until the quiet returned.


Their food tasted terrible, but it was better than starving.




...


Eventually I did make it to Riverrun, weighed down by the weapons and armor I had stolen from the bandits who no longer needed them. It was late, but there was one shop still open. The nords inside were arguing about something, a golden claw that had been stolen, and they did not notice me at first. After they composed themselves I was greeted warmly, something I was not expecting. 'Nice to see anther wood elf,' the man said, 'make sure you stop by a few doors down, another of your kind has been living here for quite some time.' After unloading my wares, with no questions asked or course, I asked about the golden claw they were fighting about. The man promptly launched into a long tale of finding the claw and it bringing him luck, then having it stolen two night ago by thieves whose hideout was on the other side of the lake.


'You look like you can handle yourself, do think you could look into getting it back?' The woman beside him, his sister, clucked her tongue at him.


'Bringing strangers into your problems. Just like you.' 


I was interested enough to get more details, and also did not want to be in town to meet this other wood elf, so I accepted his proposition, planning to keep the claw for myself once I obtained it. The woman led me to the edge of town and bid me good luck. If these bandits were anything like the ones I had faced previously in the cave, loud, drunk and with little skill, this would not be a problem.


...


The first few sets of guards I ran into were exactly what I expected. They panicked as the first arrow came out of the shadows, yelling into the darkness, then crying in pain as the second and third arrows pierced them. As I got deeper into the complex and the walls changed from man made brick to much older cave formations they got a little better, but still not as fearsome as a few wolves or a single angry bear. It took a giant spider falling from the ceiling, blinding me from across the cave with precise shots of venom, to finally break my hubris. The spider could see into my dark corners and did not succumb to pain as a man would, so it was only by attrition that it finally fell. I was standing over it, catching my breath and harvesting its venom, when someone called to me from the shadows. It another nord, a thief from the looks of him, that had been captured by this spider. He was strung up in a doorway, already packaged as a meal. He begged me to cut him down, offered me money and assistance if I would do so, but it was not until I asked him about the golden claw that he gave me a good reason to actually save him from his plight.


This thief said that he had indeed stolen the claw, that he had it right now, and that it was actually a key to greater riches further down in the cave. I did not believe him, but I did need to cut him down to proceed, and I should not have been surprised when he ran off as soon as he hit the ground. I put an arrow in his back and he still did not fall, forcing me to chase him, annoyed at my terrible aim. He finally turned to face me and was rewarded was several more arrows in the chest, all of which missed the golden claw he had in his sack but were rendered dull and un-usable by his armor. I should have slit his throat before cutting him down.


I was curious about this treasure he mentioned, so against my better judgement I ventured deeper into the caves. There I met undead creatures much tougher than any of the live nords I had faced so far. They swung giant two handed swords in arcs so wide that they could block the entire hall way, forcing me to retreat. At least they couldn't move very fast, but a hit or two still found their mark on me and I was forced to dip into my small supply of healing potions. Wonderful things, I have no idea how they work, but I will steal every last one of them I can.


The cave turned into catacombs, filled with more of the same monsters, until it opened up into a cavern whose ceiling was so high that I could scarcely see its limits. In the center was a single stone coffin, undoubtedly belonging to someone quite important, surrounded by a wall covered in words that I could not read. As I approached I heard a noise, not with my ears but somehow in my mind. It was the same sound the dragon had made as it by chance rescued me, a screaming roar, but this time I could make out what sounded like words. The characters on the wall began to shimmer, and for a just a moment, I could read them. I knew what they meant, there was great power there just out of reach, but before I could make any sense of it the coffin behind me fell open. It was indeed an important man, judging from the weapon he still held in his dead hands, and it was only by luck that I manged to defeat him.


It was a nice axe. Pity I cannot wield it. The shop owner asked many questions about it when I returned with the claw, and I answered none of them. I am only returning the claw to him so I can steal it back later. I predict his sorrow will be delicious.


...


Much more has happened that I cannot fit into this journal. I now have a house that used to belong to some kind of alchemic witch. She doesn't need it anymore, and it will provide a nice base of operations. I eventually made my way to Whiterun where I have found myself involved in both the fighters guild and city politics. It should be interesting to see if I can get them to kill each other before I get bored and do it for them. They have some very nice things that would like much nicer in my possession.


I did not ask for any of this. This land and its people, some one will pay. They all will pay.

Processing...

So much happened in Skyrim last night and I barely moved the plot along. Every cave I ran across needed to be explored, and each was filled to the brim with bandits that needed killing and chests that needed emptying. Once I got to the first town the first shop I stopped in had a quest for me. I thought it was a fetch quests; it took almost an hour. The game plays almost identically to Oblivion at this point, so it really did feel like coming back home after an extended absence. This may be greedy, but the only wish I have is that the game looked better. I understand that consoles were most likely not the lead development platforms, but Skyrim bonces back and forth between beautiful vistas to hideous textures on items close up that my poor dunmer is going to get whiplash. Battlefield 3 has proved that a high end PC game can be translated at around 90% when slimmed down for television viewing. Skyrim is falling significantly short of that mark.

The journal of Leven, the dirty dunmer thief will be coming later, I just need to decide what is important and what is not. Most of all, and this sounds really nerdy (because it is) I need to decide what his motivation to be a bastard is. Wood elves make good thieves, but they do not strike me as murderers. What pushed him over the edge?

Being saved by a dragon while his head is literally on the chopping block is a good start.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The excitement is terrible

I haven't been this excited for a game release in a long time. I don't buy many games any more, the last two being Mortal Kombat and Marvel vs Capcom 3, neither of which went very well. This once is different. Skyrim is bought and paid for already. It is sitting in the back room of my local Gamestop just waiting to be picked up. If I wasn't so old and fragile I would be at the midnight opening. Tomorrow morning will just have to suffice. My cynical internal monologue has been almost completely silenced; the chances of this being terrible are almost non-existent. Though I did enjoy Oblivion a great deal in its ludite console form. The not so current fad is to hate it and its leveling system, then mod it to death until it is no longer the game that was intended. I don't remember it being a problem. It would have dominated my playing time even if there was something to play of the 360 at the time (there wasn't).

There are so many stories from my time with Oblivion, many of which I have already told here. Some of them were scripted, but the best ones were just organic things that happened because I screwed up or was messing around. I inadvertently let an assassination target escape once (I could have killed here, but instead I charmed her dog and forced it to attack her. It was hilarious, but it couldn't finish the job). She fled into a nearby cave, right into the teeth of another side quest involving warring faction of trolls. They killed her, completing my job, then I had to kill them to get something off of her body. None of this was intentional, but it made the world much more believable.

My gaming habits are a bit different now, so Skyrim will not get weeks of uninterrupted time. The backlog is already looming large, with Resistance 3 and White Knight Chronicles 2 in the mail, and many other excellent games that I have not had a chance to look at yet. This is an impossible time of year for a compulsive gamer, one that I never quite recover from, making the next that much worse.

Imagine if the new rumored Xbox actually does come out next year. I'll be well and truly fucked.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mama, I'm comin' home

With only two evenings to fill before Skyrim comes out I was content to have nothing sitting on the desktop queue next to my 360. This was before another disastrous evening of Street Fighting, so I ended up spending money on  to get a game to keep me from playing that. Sounds backwards, but still a better option than not playing anything. Of the two remaining titles that needed to be transformed from demos into actual achievement generating games I chose Renegade Ops. It is difficult to go wrong with a twin stick shooter, especially when it features some RPG-lite leveling and looks as good as Renegade Ops does. I happily drove around and blew things up for the rest of the evening and looking forward to finishing it up this evening. Twin stick shooters are the equivalent of comfort food to me: always appealing, even when I need to overlook flaws of all severities to enjoy them.

We all have genres that we fall back on when nothing else is fun and one that we can take just a little of before throwing our hands up in frustration. I can play about one racing game a quarter and it matters not if it is realistic (Forza) or arcade (Dirt), but I have an irrational aversion to any Need for Speed games. I never play them and I am not entirely sure why, because I know that they are (usually) pretty good. First person shooters are played almost reflexively, but stealth games are more easily avoided, especially when stealth is the only option. Watching me play Metal Gear must be a trip, as Snake might as well be replaced with Commando era Schwarzenegger. I went through a digital board game kick when XBLA first took off, playing far much more Uno online then is healthy. I quit when someone accused me of cheating.

At uno. Online.

Twin stick shooters are a little different. I play them because I am always looking for a successor to Shadowgrounds (which really isn't fair, because Shadowgrounds was not a true twin stick shooter, it was mouse and keyboard). I have never found its equal among modern games, though a few have come close. Geometry Wars was a sense of endless pride and frustration as the top score on my friends list changed hands. Zombie Apocalypse (the first one, not the terrible sequel) introduced some much needed environmental interaction to things. Feeding zombies into a giant snow thrower never got old. So far Renegade Ops is pretty far up there. It combines the score multiplier ADHD of Zombie Apocalypse and Geometry Wars with the larger environments of Shadowgrounds. The vehicles can be a bit squirrely at high speed and I don't like time limits on side missions, but these are small complaints.

I should complain about the price, but it was bought and paid for before I realized it was a bit high.

...

Two days. I have not been this excited for a game in a long time. Here's hoping it lives up to hype, and that I can make good on my threat to turn it into an ongoing narrative.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Please, stop the cleavage

I could not bring myself to play any more Otomedius Excellent last night. It is just not good enough of a game to justify its level of depravity. It's not even that deprave, it's just that boring of a shooter. Instead I watched the mediocre stream of the tail end of Canada Cup. All of the singles had passed, leaving only the international 5v5 event. All of the biggest names were involved anyway, character locked into single elimination matches againt a person chosen from the other team specifically to fight them. Not just character counter picking, but player counter picking. Someone (it might have been Justin Wong) called it Pokemon Street Fighter, and that is a very good way to describe it. I missed the beginning and end, so I did not see team USA get beaten by the back up Japanese team after beating the primary one, but I did see an incredibly rare, wonderful thing:

a tournament level Blanka player.

Riceta's Blanka is so lame that it would be difficult to watch if I didn't find it so fascinating. There were very few extended, link heavy combos, though he could certainly perform them if the opportunity presented itself. Instead he harassed people, staying just out of range until an errant button was pressed, then getting a hit or two, usually ending in a hard knock down with electricity. There was some pressure on the opponents wake up, but more often than not he retreated back to a save distance. Riceta literally trolled his way through most of the Korean team. The stream chat cringed as I leaned in to my 480p stream (not going to spend the 8.95 until there is a really good reason, sorry), soaking up every shenanigan, watching as player after player forgot that you can focus attack the ex-rainbow roll and catching a cross up ball to the face.

It was glorious.

Eventually he ran into someone who actually knew the match (I think it was Infiltration) and the glorious run came to an end. These matches highlighted both Blanka's strengths and weaknesses. If you don't know how to deal with his bull shit you are in serious trouble, but if you do, then even the best Blankas in the biz have a hard time coming up with a win.

Bonus video below. Riceta doesn't win, but he takes a game from Daigo, so it's an (im)moral victory none the less.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

What is the age of consent in Japan, anyway?

I am quite sure that playing Otomedies Excellent puts me on a list that I do not want to be on. The kind of list that keeps you from getting jobs where you interact with children or need a security clearance beyond 'random guy off of the street.' It certainly does have that skeevy, only in Japan look and feel to it, but so few shmups make it state side that it has to be played. The pervy coating doesn't really make any sense; this is a Gradius game, right down to the music, enemies, and level design. Weapons are still gained by destroying red enemies and collecting the power ups they leave behind. There is more variety now, with different weapon cards collected as the game progresses that be fitted to the different ships, though if you get a better version of the same weapon you are using you can't actually equip without starting completely over. If the game were longer this would be an issue, but with only eight levels that can be pushed through (with unlimited continues, mind you) in under an hour, starting over isn't that big of a deal.

After I had pushed through the game once, though, I understood the nonsequiter of giant boobed girls in ships: as a shmup it is rather plain. It doesn't have the same depth as Ikaruga or the more recent Deathsmiles, both of which contain incredibly deep score mechanics that you don't even discover until you can make it through a whole level without dying. Otomedius Excellent is such a throwback that without the tarting up it would be unremarkable at best, just plain boring at worst. Of course it is obnoxiously hard, as it should be, but it is not a creative obnoxiousness. Bosses that take up the whole screen will simply corner you, crushing your ship against the immovable edge of your TV. Most bosses have only one or two attacks that repeat over and over, and some of the later one I am convinced there is no way to avoid.

Gah, who buys this stuff?


I don't understand the target audience, thought the collectors edition including a two sided pillowcase gives me a pretty good clue, but I am clearly not it. Don't get me wrong, I love being terrible at the few shmups that manage to make it out here. I just don't like feeling so dirty playing them.

Friday, November 4, 2011

I'm mad as hell...

It was probably not a good idea to play Bodycount immediately after Battlefield 3. All of my complaints regarding Battlefield 3 can be boiled down to nitpicking or indictments of the genre as a whole. It was a pretty good shooter single player shooter whose primary reason for existing I will never actually experience. Even without that part of the game in my knowledge I feel comfortable saying that it was certainly not a waste of time to play.

It was probably not a good idea to play Bodycount at all.

The opening segments of Bodycount were confusing and poorly voiced acted, so I skipped them. Something about people being recruited into an anti-terrorist force known as 'The Network,' but they may have been virtually controlling soldier avatars, hell if I know, I pressed A to get things over with. My agent from 'The Network' was then dropped into a reasonable looking war torn city somewhere in Africa with nothing but a checkpoint to guide him. I walked around a corner and was killed by someone who I thought was on my side. Respawned and died again. It took around five deaths (in the first level!) to figure out that the two warring factions conveniently portrayed by guys in different colored suits wanted to kill each other and you for having the audacity to show up and ask ask them to stop killing each other.



Once I stopped getting shot in the back and started getting shot in the front I realized that who was shooting me where was not actually the problem. In every modern first person shooter that I have ever played ever there is button that you use to look down the sites of your weapon. This slows down your movement and zooms in the view to better facilitate popping heads. In Bodycount is still zooms in the view but instead of slowing down your movement it stops you entirely. Moving the right stick then has you lean to the left or right. At first blush this is not a terrible idea; it allows you to use cover without having to lock yourself to the wall you are hiding behind. But then you realizing that standing still while aiming is never a good idea, and then you die. Again.

Playing a budget shooter after a big one is just not a good idea, though I have read that Battlefield 3 was less popular online one week after its release than Modern Warfare 2. Now that's a kick in the balls.

...

Like a moth to a flame I have returned to Street Fighter. There is a strict time limit placed on how long I can play in a given evening, mostly because buying the game for a third time would be ludicrous. I want to learn a new character, find someone who I can be slightly proficient with. Guile and Dee Jay are an option, but I think I have settled on Dhalsim. After an hour of playing ranked a few nights ago I won twice, learning very quickly that I did not know what to do with Dhalsim if and when he gets knocked down. Blanka with meter has a get our of jail free card in the form of EX upball (unless being safe jumped, something that I still cannot recognize) but what can Dhalsim do?

I put this question out into the world, and the response I got back was 'don't get knocked down.'

From several people. They were quite serious. I have chosen poorly.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Call of Battlefield

If you were to strip all the branding from Battlefield 3, everything game, on the box, on the disc, or in the manual, it would be virtually indistinguishable from Call of Duty to the casual and not so casual observer. Gritty modern day psuedo squad based shooter, check. Story told as flashbacks of person who may or may not be the good guy who is being interrogated, check. Levels from the point of few of soldiers' from varying nationalities, some of whom die in gruesome ways regardless of what the player does, check. Nuclear explosions in densely populated areas, enemies who aim for no one but the player character even when his squad mates are sitting right out on the open, vehicle based levels to break up the shooting, and at least one section thrown in just for shock value, check.



Not as good as No Russian, but the idea is the same.

Here's the problem: Battlefield 3 (at least the part of it that I will be exposed to) is really good. It is pointless to complain about who it doesn't has a single original idea pressed into either of the discs it came on when what is here is enjoyable. Yes, I annoyed when some smarmy bastard shoots me from across the map, killing me before I even knew he was there, but this has been a problem since shooters took a step or two in the general direction of 'realism' and may never be fixed. It's also very obvious when there are enemies that I am supposed to kill instead of hiding behind cover and letting the rest of my squad kill them, as they will sit there outside of cover for minutes at a time waiting to get shot. This leads to more hilarity than anger, something that Battlefield 3 has very little of. The Bad Company games were just as good as shooters, but were more enjoyable because there were not so intent on being grim-dark the entire time.

That games from competing companies come out so similar should not be a surprise. This is what sells. If you want to make money you just need to sell what sells. I can see the developers walking into Castle EA with head full of ideas, things that they want to do to stand apart from CoDBLOPS (that is my favorite acronym ever), then walking out with their tails between their legs after being beaten with rolled up papers labeled 'profitability' and 'Activision is bigger than we are now, we need to do exactly what they are doing.'

What I am hoping for is big cross over in the next few years. Battlefield vs Call of Duty! I never thought I would live the see Street Fighter vs Tekken (and from the looks of it and its gem system, I may have been right to hope for that), which proves that if there is money to made nothing is impossible.